ABC’s Ben Sherwood Says Network’s ‘All-Inclusive’ Programming Reflects Its Diverse Audience

Calls Shonda Rhimes 'Our Elvis' at Vegas conference

Ben Sherwood says ABC's programming reflects diversity not simply because it's good business to do so but "because it's right."

Sherwood, the president of the Disney-ABC TV group, was the keynote speaker today at the opening of the 2016 NAB Show in Las Vegas and then took part in a Q&A with Gordon Smith, the president of NAB and a former Oregon Senator. ABC's new entertainment president, Channing Dungey, was in the front row, seated next to Rebecca Campbell, the head of the ABC owned TV stations group.

"My predecessor, Anne Sweeney, and [former ABC entertainment president] Paul Lee set in motion choices that were based upon decisions that reflect our audience," said Sherwood, who himself is considered a potential successor to Bob Iger as CEO of Disney. "And now with Channing Dungey, you'll see that commitment is even greater."

ABC dominates Thursday nights with dramas produced by Shonda Rhimes (whom Sherwood called "our Elvis" in a nod to Vegas) and has a string of family comedies featuring African-Americans, Asian-Americans and even one starring a gay teenager.

"We are all-inclusive," Sherwood said. "In a divided nation, we speak to everyone, and our content needs to reflect that."

Smith asked Sherwood if he bought the notion that this is still a golden age of television.

"Every era wants to have its golden age, and I think we're in a golden moment for TV," Sherwood said. "What is unusual about this moment is not about the talent that is making it but the technology that is used to tell a story and distribute it widely. As a democrat with a small d, I'm a big fan of that."

When Smith asked Sherwood if he had any advice for the ABC affiliates in the room, Sherwood said, "That feels like a trick question. As a recovering journalist [Sherwood is the former president of ABC News], I would never be so presumptuous to wear the hat of our affiliate leaders."

"The one thing I worry about the most is we should never take for granted that the viewer or consumer or customer of today is the viewer or consumer or customer of tomorrow," Sherwood said, "and I would exhort our affiliate friends to do that as well. We're very much aligned here."

Sherwood is meeting behind closed doors with ABC affiliates this afternoon in Las Vegas.

@ChrisAriens Chris Ariens is the managing editor and director of video at Adweek.